Southern Miss opened their conference schedule against division foe North Texas on Saturday, improving to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Conference USA with a 49-14 victory. The offense produced 573 yards with zero turnovers, while the defense forced one turnover and racked up five sacks in the win.
On the second drive of the game, Nick Mullens completed three passes to three different receivers, the longest to Ito Smith for 31 yards on a 2nd-and-10 play. A completion to Mike Thomas in the back of the end zone from five yards out capped the drive off and gave the Golden Eagles the early 7-0 lead.
Mullens continued to connect with Thomas on the fourth drive, twice for 32 yards. After a Jalen Richard carry that put the offense at the 3-yard line, Mullens connected with Casey Martin for another touchdown toss. On the following possession, Mullens kept the ball himself for a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
At halftime, the Golden Eagle offense had generated 252 total yards, 169 of those yards through the air. The North Texas offense gained 167 yards in the first half. The Mean Green controlled time of possession and gained more first downs, but still trailed by three scores at halftime.
Following halftime, the Golden Eagle offense put together a drive that had three plays over 15 yards each. The drive ended with another Mullens-to-Thomas touchdown connection from five yards out, pushing the Southern Miss lead to 28-0.
After gaining possession after a turnover-on-downs, Thomas’ number was called once again.
The offense went deep into the playbook when they called a flea flicker that went for a 62- yard touchdown, Thomas’ third of the game. “I knew it was going to be a touchdown actually,” Mullens said. Mean Green QB Andrew McNulty ended the third quarter with a 39-yard completion to Turner Smiley that put the Mean Green in scoring position as time expired. Starting the fourth quarter on the Southern Miss 23-yard line, McNulty connected with his favorite target of the night, Carlos Harris, for their first points of the game. Harris had nine receptions for 136 yards
and a touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Matthews made his debut late in the fourth quarter. On his first snap of the season, he rushed for 29 yards.
Justice Hayes ran for 35 on the next play. Hayes found his way into the end zone on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown run, pushing the Southern Miss lead to 49-7. Hayes had 16 rushes for 86 yards and a touchdown on one of his better nights as a Golden Eagle.
North Texas running back Willy Ivery gashed the Southern Miss defense on the Mean Green’s final drive. On his first carry, he bounced the run to the outside for a 12-yard gain and then 24 yards on the next carry. Ivery plunged into the end zone from three yards out, bringing the final score to 49-14.
Mullens threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, while racking up 325 yards on 27 completions. Seven of those 27 passes went to Thomas, who had a career night with 155 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas’ health was a major factor of his impact on the game.
“This is the first game that I have felt comfortable and not banged up,” Thomas said. Head coach Todd Monken echoed Thomas’ statement.
“This was really the first week he has been back to practice,” Monken said. “I am fired up for (Thomas). We are better when he is healthy.”
Smith played a huge role in the offense as well, getting 16 touches for 169 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Golden Eagles had no trouble getting to the quarterback as a unit, as they were able to sack the QB five times.
“When I get a sack, sometimes I don’t even know what to do,” said Ja’Boree Poole, who led the way with two sacks.
Michael Smith added 1.5 sacks while Cornell Armstrong was responsible for creating the only turnover of the game with an interception in the end zone, the first of his career.
The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-0) travel to Huntington, West Virginia, to face the Marshall Thundering Herd (4-1, 1-0) on Friday, Oct. 9.